How to create more efficient public services

An innovative economy and streamlined public service go hand in hand. Discover the latest insight on financial policy design and evaluation from Don Drummond, keynote speaker at the 2017 Public Sector Conference.

Many forecasters predict a "new normal" era of slower economic growth than the past. What are the implications of this for federal, provincial and municipal governments?

Governments are going to have to restrain spending to a pace considerably slower than the 2000s. In particular, healthcare spending will be a challenge because of aging demographics. The combination of slower economic growth, slower revenue growth and an aging population will force all levels of government to be more efficient and effective in the delivery of public services. Otherwise, they won’t be able to provide the services residents want and need while remaining fiscally sustainable.

What practical advice do you have for CPAs who work in public finance and want to learn more about results-oriented performance management?

CPAs can help government programs by paying greater attention to their design. For example, business subsidies should not be implemented unless a market failure can be defined. Objectives must be clearly set out ex ante so that programs and services can be modified if they fall short.

In terms of financial policy design and evaluation, an evidence-based approach is critical. What are the top challenges facing today’s public servants, who must reconcile this policy imperative with limited resources, increased reporting obligations and the need to deliver results?

A constant challenge as a public servant is to provide sound policy advice when your political masters sometimes feel less sound approaches would be more popular. That’s why it is so important to back up your advice with strong analysis and evidence. A second challenge is securing high quality information to support the required analysis and evidence, but there is some progress on that front – for example, the return of the Census Program.

Budget 2017 indicates that two priority areas for the Trudeau government are green infrastructure and sustainable, community-minded social programs. What’s your perspective on these investment targets?

Canada has long starved its public infrastructure, so it’s refreshing to see this become more of a priority. The tilt toward green infrastructure is especially welcome. Community-based social programs are valuable, but in all cases it is important to get to the heart of social and economic stresses. For example, many of socioeconomic gaps faced by Canada's indigenous population can be traced to inferior education opportunities and in turn that stems from under-funding and governance issues. 

How can public servants – including CPAs, economists and other financial professionals in government – foster innovation in the broader Canadian economy?

Public servants can foster innovation by playing a more powerful role as information providers. A recent survey by Deloitte indicated that one third of businesses were seriously under-investing relative to competitors, but did not know this was happening. Canadian businesses must expand beyond the North American market but often need help to do that. Innovation does not always mean being a world leader in something. Adapting best technologies and practices along with using global value-added chains can turn a company and a country into a global economic powerhouse. 

Your keynote at the Public Sector Conference is about the need for greater efficiency in public service. What can attendees look forward to in your session?

Slower economic growth is going to force a revolution in how public services are created and implemented. There will be much less scope to tolerate ineffective, inefficient programs and design needs to be smarter. Results will need to be relentlessly evaluated to measure efficiency. Program and service modifications will need to be ongoing to make corrections. And this new era needs a new breed of public servant – one that is much more analytical, broader in perspective and driven by results.

To learn more about the evolution of today’s public sector and the impact of CPA leadership in government, register for this year’s Public Sector Conference, which takes place in Ottawa from October 23-24, 2017.